I recently recorded a podcast with Jaclyn A. Siegal as part of my "Lab Lockdown" series on Cognitive Revolution. Jaclyn is currently a PhD student at Western Ontario, but it's clear to anyone who listened to the episode that it's easily as interesting as many of the professors I've had on the show. And not only is she engaged with her subject intellectually, she also has a deep connection to it at a personal level. It's a rare and powerful combination. In the episode, we talked about how her own personal experiences have influenced her studies. She mentioned a number of books that had a formative impact on her own journey. I certainly know I'm going to add a number of them to my own reading queue, and I'm sure many others will want to as well. This is a (drastically) truncated version of her entire list, which you can read here. I only include here the ones we mentioned on the show.
Guyland by Michael Kimmel
This was the first book that got Jaclyn really thinking about this topic. She can describe it better than I can, so I'll just quote her from the show: "It was all about how the male gender role negatively influences men. It talked about how the restriction of their emotionality really had such a negative influence on how they were told to 'man up,' and they were told 'don't cry,' 'don't be a sissy,' and how it is that not being about to express their emotions was really challenging for them. That actually got me really interested in the psychology of gender more broadly."
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
This book argues that as women's status and opportunities in society have increased, so have their burdens. Particularly with respect to body image. As Wolf writes, "[D]uring the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty... [P]ornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal."
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
This is from the publisher's website: "'Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.' So begins Feminism is for Everybody, a short, accessible introduction to feminist theory by one of its most influential practitioners. Designed to be read by all genders, this book provides both a primer to the question 'what is feminism?' and an argument for the enduring importance of the feminist movement today."
Sex Object by Jessica Valenti
This is a memoir about Valenti's experience of sexual objectification during childhood and how they influenced her identity later in life. It contextualizes one individual's experiences in the larger scheme of a huge societal problem. It's a critical book in understanding this problem, especially how men can become better allies by listening to and believing women.
We Were Feminists Once – Andi Zeisler
This book examines feminism as a mainstream phenomenon. Our feminist today icons aren't just outsiders or intellectuals, such as Simone de Beauvoir. They're also unequivocally powerful women, like Beyoncé. This has changed the sociology of how we engage with feminist ideas. This includes everything from marketing campaigns to social justice. Zeisler maps this media landscape, and what it means for feminism today.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Again, Jaclyn can summarize it better than I can, so I'll quote her: "It was all about how she [the author] identifies as a feminist, however she needs to sacrifice that in certain situations. And I think it was really relatable to clearly not just women but also men, who recognize that it's impossible to be a full-time feminist. And it's okay to make concessions. However, at the end of the day, as long as you are working toward the goal of gender equality, you're on the right track."
While I have nowhere near the expertise on this subject that Jaclyn does, there are a couple authors that I've been influenced by and think fit in with some of the other books that she recommends.
A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women by Siri Hustvedt
Siri Hustvedt is noted for her work combining her perspective as a scholar of feminist literary studies who is extremely knowledgeable about neurology and psychiatry. Her work is deeply personal as well as immensely intellectual. In this collections of essays, she talks about art, therapy, dealing with mental health, and the nature of consciousness. Her writing is unique, and so, so good. If you're interested in the mind, feminism, and personal narrative, you gotta give this one a read.
Simians, Cyborgs, and Women by Donna Haraway
There is a great and highly influence essay in feminist studies by Donna Haraway called Situated Knowledges. It's about how the historical male-dominatedness of science has skewed what we'd like to think is an "objective" domain of knowledge. It's definitely worth a read. She's a clever writer, and really gets at a profound insight here. Start with the essay. If you want more, then get deeper into her essays in the above book.
Literally anything by Margaret Mead
That's not the name of a book. It's simply an encouragement to pick up a book by Margaret Mead next time you see one. Truth be told, I don't find her to be the most compelling writer (in terms of readability or style; her books can be quite dry). But she's undoubtedly one of the most brilliant scholars of twentieth century. She did a lot to redefine the way we think about gender, race, identity, sexuality, and the transition from youth to adulthood. Probably her most famous works are "Coming of Age in Samoa," "Sex and Temperament," and "Male and Female: a study of the sexes in a changing world," so those are probably a good place to start.